Judith Collins praises Christopher Luxon as Simon Bridges brushes off leadership speculation

Simon Bridges is brushing off leadership speculation, as Judith Collins praises National's new Botany candidate Christopher Luxon, who isn't ruling out going for the top job. 

Reflecting on Luxon's speech Monday night after being selected, Collins described it on Tuesday as "fantastic" and said she looked forward to him being the Botany MP.  

"I don't think any leader ever expects to not have other people come through," Collins said. "I just think that Christopher Luxon… was so outstanding last night and actually blew my little socks off."

It followed Luxon's appearance on The AM Show during which he declined to comment on whether he's eyeing up a potential leadership role within the party.

"That's a big hypothetical and you're a long way down the road, because I just look at what I've got to master and learn."

National leader Simon Bridges laughed off speculation on Tuesday that Luxon could be going for the top job, telling the media he's not worried. 

"I think it shows the strength of National that we're getting that sort of calibre and we're going to see more of that as we see more selections like this for seats that I feel strongly we can and will win."

Last month, Bridges said other "impressive people" will be putting their names forward to run for National. Seats like Upper Harbour will be up for grabs, after Paula Bennett announced she won't run for it again in 2020. 

Luxon won the race to be National's Botany candidate against National MP Agnes Loheni who announced her intention to run last month. 

Bridges became National leader in February last year, after going up against Collins and MPs Amy Adams, Mark Mitchell and Jonathan Coleman. It followed former Prime Minister and National leader Bill English stepping down. 

Speculation grew earlier this year that Collins could take over as leader, after MPs in Bridges' caucus told Newshub they weren't pleased with his handling of last year's Jami-Lee Ross saga and the "emotional junior staffer" issue. 

Bridges was also polling well below Labour leader Jacinda Ardern as preferred Prime Minister, and Collins outstripped him in July in the same category.  

But Newshub's latest poll showed Bridges up 2.5 percent to 6.7 percent as preferred PM, while Collins dropped 1.9 percent to 5.2 percent, and Ardern dropped 10.6 percent to 38.4 percent. 

"I've got more than two very ambitious MPs," Bridges laughed on Tuesday. "They're ambitious for themselves and for New Zealanders and I think [Luxon] is an excellent candidate."

He said National is a "broad party" with a mix of "liberals like Nikki Kaye" and "more socially conservative" members like himself. 

Kaye said Luxon is a "strong candidate and I'm delighted that he's been selected... I'm interested to hear his ideas". 

National MP Hamish Walker wouldn't speculate on leadership, telling the media: "Simon's the leader, he's doing a great job and I back Simon 110 percent."

Labour's Senior Whip Michael Wood said Botany is a "diverse electorate in which people want to know that the local MP knows the community and is going to focus on serving them". 

He said it would be a "shame" if the National Party's "negativity rubs off on [Luxon]". 

"I'm sure it'll be a very robust race and will draw in lots of energy and resource from both the National Party and Mr Ross."

The Botany seat is currently held by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross - now an independent - who resigned from National last year after an epic falling-out with Bridges. 

Ross has said he welcomes "a good, old-fashioned, grassroots election campaign" and was happy to put his "local credentials up for local people to make a decision on".

Luxon, who resigned from his position at Air New Zealand in June, grew up in Botany. 

Newshub.

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